chocolate macarons

The Singing Baker

Life as a Pastry Student

I grew up with a mother who was the embodiment of a “hostess with the mostest.” Martha Stewart had nothing on this domestic goddess. She always made her creations look fashionable, gorgeous and delicious, and she did it all on a dime.

The Singing Baker - Alison Mahoney - pastry school - pastry student Needless to say, assisting my mom in the kitchen during her fabulous parties was a must. My sister and I would dress up in our party outfits, don vintage aprons and pass the hors d'oeuvres. Looking back, I think that’s where my penchant for entertaining began.

Yet despite my deep appreciation for my mother’s entertaining style, I never expected to end up in the kitchen myself. For me, baking started innocently, as all hobbies do: a chocolate chip cookie here; a pizzelle there; a wedding cake for a gluten-free friend.

People started to tell me (often) "You should open a bakery." I laughed it off thinking, "Riiiiight…a musical theatre actor and night owl should definitely get up at 4 am to start baking bread." Not in this lifetime.

Baking was just a sublime obsession, a creative outlet outside of my day-to-day grind of auditions and rehearsals. It was also a great way to make new friends. Nothing says “be my BFF” like freshly baked muffins, cake or pie. (Seriously, just try it.)

Pistachio macarons - baking - pastry - Alison Mahoney - pastry school
Pistachio macarons

More and more, I found myself day-dreaming at auditions about what kind of baked good I would tackle that night. I would rush home with an hour or two between commitments to bake a cake, French macarons or cookies, and then go out for the night. It suddenly became my routine, and boy did I love the challenge.

Suddenly, I found myself in the kitchen three or four times a week. Singing had always been my first love, but baking? Baking was quickly becoming the dark horse. My baking addiction got so out of hand that I actually found myself competing for baking domination on a Food Network show where I was the only home chef.

I clearly could not hang with the big boys on national television, but I so desperately wanted to. I am creative and fast and loose in the kitchen, but I quickly learned that, when it comes to baking, a strong foundation in technique is truly what gives a chef freedom. I started researching pastry programs, seeking a curriculum that felt serious but not confining—a course that would teach me how to create something classic, but then encourage me to color outside of the lines. I found that place in ICE.

With my reckless tendencies in the kitchen, I’ve found weighted measurements to be a challenge (and I’m certainly keeping my fellow classmates on their toes). That said, I’ve discovered that I love having to follow direction. It is so fascinating to find out why ingredients are incorporated at different points in the process and about the different chemical reactions behind seemingly basic sweets.

I love watching my classmates’ eyes light up, triumphant when their bread comes out of the oven, or when my instructor explains to me why my pastry cream has never, ever, ever set-up correctly. (It’s ALL in the wrist.) I feel all abuzz with knowledge and confidence when I leave class each day, and immediately go back to my home kitchen to practice what I’ve learned. I invite you to follow me as I embark on this wild new adventure, attempting to transform into the master baker that I feel I was always destined to become.

Click here to learn more about ICE's career program in Pastry & Baking Arts.

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